Doing great work is all very well, but…

by | Dec 16, 2016

I sent out an email to my list about doing what inspires you — your ‘great work’, and one of my subscribers wrote back with this comment: “Hey Cathy, that’s all very well, but what about when you’re an entrepreneur, don’t you have to do work that someone wants to buy? Otherwise you’re just a starving artist. I know I’ve made that mistake many times over — creating programmes I love but not selling as many as I want to.

Oh that’s such a great question! I like to sum it up in any conversation as the “Yes, but…” moment. What those words are telling me are that she doesn’t see things the way that I do. She has a specific question about making money (I’ll come back to that) but, in essence, her point of view is different to mine.

I find this happens when I’m working with someone. We’re in conversation and I can hear (or, more often, feel) that my client wants to align with an idea we’re talking about, or wants to commit to an action we’re discussing, but there is some doubt in her mind.

I’ve learned over the years to pause here; to ask more questions and to go deeper. If we don’t, then the conversation is often wasted. The client might nod in agreement, she might even commit to the action, but, chances are, nothing will change.

In an email, or in a post like this on Facebook, for example, I’m not looking to change your mind about something. This isn’t a conversation between two people; it’s simply me expressing a point of view, with the hope, at most, that I can open your mind to think about my words.

In a coaching relationship, or in my workshops, however, the commitment is much deeper; both my commitment to help you learn something new, and your commitment to do something about it. And this, ultimately, is what will make your life and work better in some way.

When we’re working together, the ‘yes, but...’ moment is a place where the conversation can get interesting. (and also, in my experience, where many coaches get it wrong.) It’s an indication that there is deeper work to be done, and it’s that deeper work will create the results you want.

Of course, that catalyst doesn’t have to be a coaching conversation; it can be something we read, or something we notice when we’re out for a walk — I have those insights as well! — I just happen to think being challenged by someone who is able to ask good questions and help me think in a different way is a shortcut to my personal and professional development.

Great, but what about that money question? OK, well that question isn’t really about money (in my opinion); it’s whether those programmes are what my subscriber considers her ‘great work’. If they are, then she’ll learn something each time she creates, and part of that is whether (and how) she can money from them.

We all need to live, and we all have lifestyle aspirations, but creating an income can be different to creating ‘great work’. The artists of yesteryear had benefactors in the same way that entrepreneurs of today might find sponsors for their podcast, take advertising on their blog so that they can write freely, or hold down a part-time or full-time job while they pursue their dream.

Not being paid for something is a pretty good way to find out whether we really love it. If we don’t then there are other ways to create great work and, coincidentally, those might be the things people will pay for.

It isn’t an all or nothing choice in my opinion. I’ve chosen to create revenue streams that give me ongoing income which means I have some flexibility to play, and I choose to take on work (or unpaid projects) that excite me. I’m not going to starve, and I’m not driven to make money just for the sake of making more money.

Many of us divide our work into the things that pay the bills, and then ‘art projects’ that excite us. You can always do a ‘side-project’ — perhaps a book you can write in the evenings, freelance work you can do from home, or volunteering with a non-profit whose mission you support?

You might even find that the ‘side project’ turns into a job, or some paid consultancy, and that becomes your main ‘thing’ — your great work so to speak. If it doesn’t, that’s OK too. Remember that you always have a choice about where to do more, and where to do less. Change can be gradual.

Having said that though, the easiest way to find more fulfilment — to do that ‘great work’ — is to shift the way we look at things. If you think you’re waiting for something to change before you can do that ‘great work’ we talked about last week, maybe you can simply try on the perspective that what you’re doing now is pretty close to perfect. Because, after all, maybe it is?

With love,

Cathy

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